Summer's over in Krakow

Trip Start Mar 02, 2010
Trip End Oct 29, 2011

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Flag of Poland  , Southern Poland,
Thursday, October 6, 2011

Coming from Warsaw, and then getting off the train from in Krakow you almost feel like you're in another country. All the charm and character that Warsaw lacks is more than made up for by Krakow. We were a bit less than fortunate with the weather, but even in the grey and rain you still got the impressions of old-world charm that European cities are so well known for. Krakow also has the largest mediaeval town square in Europe – or so we read…

 As it turned out though, even the rain turned out to be rather fitting at times, like on our first day when we took yet another 'free’ tour. This tour was slightly different though, because while we met in the main town square, we kind of just blew right past it and towards the ‘other’ town of Kazimierz, which technically another town founded by a King of the same name in the 15th Century, although now of course exists simply as another area of Krakow. This was the area where most of the Jewish people in the city lived, and there were many, since Poland had around 70% of the world’s population of Jews prior to WWII. Another interesting fact about the Jewish population we learned was that was one of the reasons they were initially persecuted was because the black plague seemed to have little effect on them, which back when people were not so intelligent was blamed on witchcraft. In reality, it was because their religion required them to bathe daily, something others clearly didn’t do enough of. Kazimierz also has remnants of the old Jewish Ghetto from the war, where Roman Polanski spent time before escaping as a child. We finished up the tour at the site that used to house the factory from Schindler’s List – which Roman Polanski was slated to direct, but then decided it hit a bit too close to home, so Steven Spielberg took it on. 

 After the first day and the rain that we had on the tour, our next day was spent in the town square with slightly better weather. There was St Mary’s church, which has a couple legends about it, and which looks strange because it has two steeples, one that is taller than the other. The first legend is that two brothers were commissioned to build the steeples, but spent their time competing with the other to make the best one. The second legend surrounds to church’s bugler, who plays a tune every hour, which is sharply cut short at the end. The story is that it pays tribute to one of the church’s buglers who was playing his tune but had his throat pierced by an arrow before he could finish. 

 We also went to Wawel Castle (pronounced Vavel) which is perched nicely up on a hill overlooking both the Old Town and Kazimierz. It doesn’t look so much like a castle, as much as just a series of old buildings, but was still pretty nice to visit, and like with anywhere in Poland, had a seriously elaborate church that contained the tombs of many great kings (and queens).

 Finally, our last stop before heading off to Zakopane was the Wielicka salt mine. This sounds like a bit of an odd tourist attraction, but everyone we know who went here seemed to rave about it, so we had to check it out for ourselves. It certainly lived up to the hype, since it is a massive salt mine that has been fully functional since mediaeval times up until the present. Practically everything in the mine is made from salt, including an enormous cathedral/ballroom that hosts weekly mass and even weddings. All the chandeliers, the alter, and even a statue of the pope are carved from salt. I really wanted to be able to say I licked the pope, but I had to settle for licking the walls instead… not bad.

 - Nick
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